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Covenant of Mayors - Europe
News article21 December 2022

Takeaways from the Expert Mission with Derry and Valongo

Get some insights on what was discussed over the 2-day expert mission that took place on 8-9 December in Derry and Strabane (Ireland), as part of the Covenant of Mayors (CoM) Expert Mission programme 2021-2022.


The Expert Mission is a peer exchange tailored to advanced cities working on long-term climate strategies, offering opportunities to exchange on such strategies. In this Mission, representatives of Valongo (Portugal) travelled to Derry City and Strabane District Council (Ireland) to learn about water management, reforestation strategies and urban agriculture projects.

Similarities between the two cities

Derry and Valongo share the trait of both being small towns, with less than 100,000 inhabitants. This characteristic has allowed them both to develop and easily implement a series of adaptation measures through stakeholder collaboration. Valongo was awarded the European Green Leaf in 2022 thanks to the great number of environmental projects the city has developed in collaboration with a wide range of actors. However, the city is still facing extreme droughts, floods, and overpopulation of invasive species like eucalyptus that end up consuming high levels of resources. Did Valongo manage to extract the necessary knowledge from Derry’s great Climate Action Strategy?

Urban agricultural projects in the centre of the conversation

While Valongo arrived at Derry with high expectations regarding reforestation and water management projects, due to last minute changes in the agenda, both the Portuguese and Irish cities ended up finding great synergies on urban agricultural projects. Already during the preparatory meetings, our participants identified the need to exchange on this topic, which had been developed on both sides, and in different ways.

A thorough and intimate exchange on the local sustainable food systems took place right at the beginning of the mission. This topic would be stretched all along the visit. Derry has, for 10 years, been working on the development of Acorn Farm, the local food hub that aims not only at connecting the whole population, but also at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the resilience of the city to the effects of climate change. In 2019, Derry City & Strabane District Council published its ‘Green Infrastructure Plan’ which identified sustainable food within its main strategic priorities. Once the city realised the importance of food in climate adaptation and mitigation Derry included sustainable food in emerging climate policies.  In fact, Acorn Farm is regarded as one of the urban greenways around the city.

In 2021, the Acorn Farm “I Can Grow” project was launched. The project calls for families in Derry and Strabane to roll up their sleeves and start growing their own fruits and vegetables. One example is the “I Can Grow” Initiative: Acorn provides families with a box (filled with the necessary tools and seeds) and compost. Originally, the initiative was prepared to provide for 100 families. Nevertheless, due to its popularity, Acorn managed to get 250 families on board.

The Acorn Farm has still 5 more years of funding, and Derry’s goal is to transform it into a hub for: visitors experience, ambassador academy, community growing space, marketplace and local cooperative, and growing challenges and activities.

Water Management and Reforestation Strategies as Adaptation Strategies

During the two-day visit, Valongo also had the chance to dive deeper into the adaptation strategies and projects that are being developed by Derry City and Strabane District Council. Two of the identified challenges were flood/drought problems, and the need to reforest with local species. On this basis, our contact point in Derry, Cathy Burns, made the perfect connection with the managers of the projects “Living with Water Programme (LWWP)”, and the “Wet Woods Projects”. While the former consisted of revolutionising drainage and wastewater management with greener and more integrated solutions alongside hard engineering infrastructure; the latter dove deeper into the creation of areas of woodland along rivers and the creation of ponds within the lands to improve water quality and provide new havens for wildlife.

What’s next for our cities in the Expert Mission?

Inspired by the thorough work done by Derry City and Strabane District Council, Valongo has reflected deeply on the need to provide a community use for the urban farming projects developed in the city. Developing trainings on how to grow food and produce compost are two of the examples that Valongo plans to adopt. Involving other actors in the city, such as partnering with local shops and restaurants to produce local and seasonal food, is another of the learnt activities that Valongo will be implementing. In turn, Derry learned from the Portuguese city’s practice of establishing partnerships with local private companies to extend Acorn Farm’s life through external private investment.  

Great dynamics were established in the context of this expert mission, which has created a long lasting relationship between these two beautiful cities.

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Publikācijas datums
21 December 2022